In a historic moment for animal rights, two chimpanzees, Hercules and Leo, have been recognized by a New York court as legal persons. This past Monday, a New York court recognized two chimpanzees as legally equal to human beings.
Well, not exactly. Hercules and Leo, two chimps currently the subjects of biomedical experiments at Stony Brook University in Long Island, were granted habeas corpus by Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Barbara Jaffe. Habeas corpus is a legal petition that is presented to a court when a person (usually) has been unlawfully held under arrest or imprisoned, seeking relief for that individual.
The habeas corpus petition was filed in March for the two chimps by activist organization Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP), with the goal of freeing the animals form the New York laboratory and moving them to “Save the Chimps,” a specialized shelter in Florida.
Judge Jaffe’s ruling is a first for animal rights, and while it does not recognize chimps as legally equal to humans per se, it granted them the rights that, until now, only humans have had.
Animal rights activists argue that apes are highly intelligent, emotionally sensitive and deserving of certain basic rights. Stony Brook University will now have to provide the court with legally solid arguments as to why the chimps should remain in its possession.
The case could have significant legal ramifications for other animal rights laws and cases. Similar petitions have been filed in the past for chimpanzees in New York. In 2014, an Argentinean court ruled in favor of an orangutan living in a Buenos Aires zoo, granting it certain human rights.